Written by Natasha Murashev

The introduction of iPhone 6+ brought on a new importance for UISplitViewController. With just a few little tweaks, an app can now become Universal, with Apple handling most of the UI logic for all the different screen sizes.

Check out the UISplitViewController doing its magic on iPhone 6+:

Note that the view does not split when the iPhone 6+ is in Zoomed Display mode! (You can change between Standard and Zoomed Display Mode by going to Settings.app → Display & Brightness → View)

Again, Apple handles the logic for figuring out exactly when to show the split views.

The Storyboard Layout

Here is an overview of what a storyboard layout looks like with a split view controller:

UISplitViewController Storyboard Layout

Let’s get into more detail:

Master / Detail

The first step to using a UISplitViewController is dragging it onto the storyboard. Next, specify which view controller is the Master and which one is the Detail.

UISplitViewController Master-Detail Storyboard

Do this by selecting the appropriate Relationship Segue:

UISplitViewController Relationship Segue

The master view controller is usually the navigation controller containing the list view (a UITableView in most cases). The detail view controller is the Navigation Controller for the view corresponding to what shows up when the user taps on the list item.

Show Detail

There is one last part to making the split view controller work: specifying the “Show Detail” segue:

UISplitViewController Show Detail Segue

In the example below, when the user taps on a cell in the SelectColorTableViewController, they’ll be shown a navigation controller with the ColorViewController at its root.

Double Navigation Controllers‽

At this point, you might be wondering why both the Master and the Detail view controllers have to be navigation controllers—especially since there is a “Show Detail” segue from a table view (which is part of the navigation stack) to the Detail view controller. What if the Detail View Controller didn’t start with a Navigation Controller?

UISplitViewController No Detail Navigation Controller

By all accounts, the app would still work just fine. On an iPhone 6+, the only difference is the lack of a navigation toolbar when the phone is in landscape mode:

It’s not a big deal, unless you do want your navigation bar to show a title. This ends up being a deal-breaker on an iPad.

Notice that when the iPad app is first opened up, there is no indication that this is a split view controller at all! To trigger the Master view controller, the user has to magically know to swipe left to right.

Even when the navigation controller is in place, the UI is not that much better at first glance (although seeing a title is definitely an improvement):

UISplitViewController iPad Navigation Bar No Button


The simplest way to fix this issue would be to somehow indicate that there is more to the app than what’s currently on-screen. Luckily, the UISplitViewController has a displayModeButtonItem, which can be added to the navigation bar:

override func viewDidLoad() {

    // ...

    navigationItem.leftBarButtonItem = splitViewController?.displayModeButtonItem()
    navigationItem.leftItemsSupplementBackButton = true
- (void)viewDidLoad {
    [super viewDidLoad];

    // ...

    self.navigationItem.leftBarButtonItem = self.splitViewController.displayModeButtonItem;
    self.navigationItem.leftItemsSupplementBackButton = YES;

Build and Run on the iPad again, and now the user gets a nice indication of how to get at the rest of the app:

UISplitViewController’s displayModeButtonItem adds a bit of extra-cool usability to the iPhone 6+ in landscape mode, too:

By using the displayModeButtonItem, you’re once again letting Apple figure out what’s appropriate for which screen sizes / rotations. Instead of sweating the small (and big) stuff yourself, you can sit back and relax.

Collapse Detail View Controller

There is one more optimization we can do for the iPhone 6+ via UISplitViewControllerDelegate.

When the user first launches the app, we can make the master view controller fully displayed until the user selects a list item:

class SelectColorTableViewController: UITableViewController, UISplitViewControllerDelegate {
    private var collapseDetailViewController = true

    override func viewDidLoad() {

        splitViewController?.delegate = self

    // ...

    // MARK: - UITableViewDelegate

    override func tableView(tableView: UITableView, didSelectRowAtIndexPath indexPath: NSIndexPath) {
        collapseDetailViewController = false

    // MARK: - UISplitViewControllerDelegate

    func splitViewController(splitViewController: UISplitViewController, collapseSecondaryViewController secondaryViewController: UIViewController, ontoPrimaryViewController primaryViewController: UIViewController) -> Bool {
        return collapseDetailViewController
// SelectColorTableViewController.h

@interface SelectColorTableViewController : UITableViewController <UISplitViewControllerDelegate>

// SelectColorTableViewController.m

@interface SelectColorTableViewController ()

@property (nonatomic) BOOL shouldCollapseDetailViewController;


@implementation SelectColorTableViewController

- (void)viewDidLoad {
    [super viewDidLoad];

    self.shouldCollapseDetailViewController = true;
    self.splitViewController.delegate = self;

#pragma mark - UITableViewDelegate

- (void)tableView:(UITableView *)tableView didSelectRowAtIndexPath:(NSIndexPath *)indexPath {
    self.shouldCollapseDetailViewController = false;

#pragma mark - UISplitViewControllerDelegate

- (BOOL)splitViewController:(UISplitViewController *)splitViewController collapseSecondaryViewController:(UIViewController *)secondaryViewController ontoPrimaryViewController:(UIViewController *)primaryViewController {
    return self.shouldCollapseDetailViewController;


When the user first opens up the app on iPhone 6+ in portrait orientation, SelectColorViewController gets displayed as the primary view controller. Once the user selects a color or the app goes into the background, the SelectColorViewController gets collapsed again, and the ColorViewController is displayed:

Be sure to check out the UISplitViewControllerDelegate documentation to learn about all the other fancy things you can do with the UISplitViewController.

Given the new different device sizes we now have to work with as iOS developers, the UISplitViewController will soon be our new best friend!

You can get the complete source code for the project used in this post on GitHub.


Questions? Corrections? Issues and pull requests are always welcome — NSHipster is made better by readers like you.

This article uses Swift version 2.0 and was last reviewed on September 11, 2015. Find status information for all articles on the status page.

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